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James Burns: Camacho's toughest foe is his shoulder

Camacho's toughest foe:his shoulder You think you know pain when your hamstring tightens up rounding second base during a church league softball game. Or you jam your pinkie finger clearing a rebound at the rec center, or roll your ankle running light post to light post during a game of street football.

Jeremy Camacho sees your pain. Scoffs.

And then raises you a dog bite and a right shoulder held together by floss. Barely.

"I think about the injuries all the time. The ankle. The shoulder. It's like, 'What did I do to deserve this? Why am I hurt all the time?' " Camacho said. "I'm basically used to the pain.

"I'll see new kids in practice on the side with hurt wrists or whatever. I usually go up to them and tell them that I'm wrestling with one arm."They usually get up at that point and give it another try."

The dog bite -- a 1/2-inch deep puncture wound on his ankle, courtesy of a stray German Shepherd -- has healed, but the shoulder injury is fresh.

Like a 5 a.m. donut.

On two separate occasions this season, doctors have advised the Buhach Colony senior to shut his season down, to give his body time to heal and rest.

You've got the rest of your life to wrestle, they'd say.

Each time, Camacho kindly thanked the doc and then carried his immobilized arm back to the mats.

He's one of Buhach Colony's team captains -- and a captain doesn't jump ship.

No one would have blamed him if he had. The number of separations are staggering -- like Mel Gibson/Lethal Weapon staggering. In four seasons, Camacho has separated his right shoulder four times, including twice this season.

The first came during a Reno tournament in December, and then it popped loose again at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South Tournament in Turlock two weeks ago.

"When it pops out, it feels like someone is trying to rip your arm off your body. Right out of the socket," Camacho said. "Sometimes it hurts so bad that I've got to take 15 minutes off practice to ice it.

"When you're in a match and someone's pressing on it, what can you do? You can't take a timeout."

And yet here he is, flinging his Teflon tough, 130-pound frame around the Buhach Colony wrestling room in preparation for the two biggest days of his wrestling career.

Camacho is one of three local wrestlers to qualify for Friday and Saturday's CIF State Wrestling Championships at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.He's joined by Merced's Chris Urquizo, the state's top-ranked 152-pounder, and Los Banos' Greg Hartman (145s).

By simply qualifying for the state tournament -- which, by no means, was simple -- Camacho, the one-armed bandit, has already cemented his place among the state's very best wrestlers.

And out of the hundreds who will pound the mats, searching and shooting for glory in 14 separate weight classes, he just might be the toughest.Pound for pound.

Scar for scar.

Because if you measure an athlete's toughness and guts by his ability to persevere and navigate through the dark times, Camacho is the gold standard.

There aren't many athletes in or around Merced County who have reached the summit of their sport, despite their body failing with every hand hold.

Worse yet, the shoulder has made Camacho a marked man on the mat.

On Day 2 of the Masters meet, Osmer watched from the corner as Ponderosa's Jesse Routsong zeroed in on Camacho's bad wing. Before long, Osmer decided to stop the match, throwing in the proverbial towel, sparing his wrestler any further injury.

One match later, Camacho qualified for state with an 8-3 win over Jesuit's Chris Winn.

"The kid has been riddled with injuries, but never quit. Am I impressed? Absolutely," Buhach Colony coach Eric Osmer said. "We've had a lot of guys come through this program that have quit for a lot less."

You pull for athletes like Camacho. And we will this weekend.

But the harsh reality is that Camacho's shoulder may ultimately cost him a shot at a state championship.

He's a long shot to win the 130-pound title, and you can't injury-default your way to the highest step of the medal stand.

His draw is stout. Camacho didn't get any sympathy from the seeding committee, which placed him in the heart of the lion's den. He'll face No. 4 Cody Howe, the North Coast champion.

"There is the possibility that my next match could be my last," Camacho said. "I know that. Hopefully, my shoulder doesn't pop out and I can bring back a medal."

It would be a shame if Camacho leaves Bakersfield empty-handed.

A real shame.

Camacho is a four-time Central California Conference champion -- only the second wrestler in Buhach Colony history to accomplish the feat. He would have surely been a household a name on the section and state levels, maybe even a top seed this weekend, had he not been so unlucky, so pain-stricken.

"He understands the consequences. His next match could be his last. There's a constant reminder right there on his shoulder," Osmer said."He wants to experience state. The injuries have always kept him out, so he's already achieved a lifelong goal. Everything else is gravy."But...

"Could he have placed or won at state if he was healthy? Absolutely."

Wrestlers like Camacho, the ones who wear a smile even in the rain, deserve to have their arm raised. Even if it hurts.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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